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Somerton Conservation Area Appraisal
Somerton Conservation Area Appraisal DRAFT JUNE 2017
Introduction Conservation areas are areas of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. Section 69 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 imposes a duty on local authorities to identify appropriate parts of their areas, to designate them as conservation areas and to keep them under review. Historic areas are now extensively recognised for the contribution they make to our cultural inheritance, economic well-being and quality of life. Public support for the conservation and enhancement of areas of architectural and historic interest is well established. By suggesting continuity and stability, such areas provide points of reference in a rapidly changing world: they represent the familiar and cherished local scene. Over 9000 have been designated nationally since they were introduced in 1967 and there are over 80 in South Somerset The Somerton Conservation Area was first designated in 1970 and extended in 1978. The District Council is required by the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to define the special interest and publish proposals for the preservation and enhancement of conservation areas. Conservation area appraisals contribute to the fulfilment of this requirement. In order that designation is effective in conserving the special interest, planning decisions must be based on a thorough understanding of the Conservation Areas character. Appraisals are therefore essential tools for the planning process and to manage informed intervention. They will provide a sound basis, defensible on appeal, for the relevant development plan policies and development control decisions and will form the framework for effective management of change. The appraisal will help provide the District Council and the local community with a clear idea of what features and details contribute to the
special character of the conservation area. The more clearly the character or special interest of a conservation area is defined, the easier it is to manage without damaging that interest.
The appraisal document follows the content recommended in Conservation Area Designation, Appraisal and Management Historic England 2016
Summary of special interest - the areas key characteristics
The historic street plan reflecting influences from the pre-Roman period onwards.
The open rural landscape setting with glimpsed views out from the conservation area
The unusually unified character of townscape with strong building lines defining the streets
The consistent use of Blue Lias stone for walling and boundaries
A consistency of roof materials in red/orange clay tile in a number of different styles
The consistent scale within streets and survival of historic plot boundaries
A good mix of uses to the central core
The Market Place with its varied spaces, the fine Market Cross and grouping of good quality buildings
Unusually extensive listing along principal streets in the urban core
A rural peripheral area of open farmland, farms, country houses and parkland
Some high quality historic shopfronts
Substantial town houses and many good examples of well-proportioned smaller houses.
Somerton Conservation Area Appraisal
The presence of stone boundary walls throughout the conservation area
Assessment of the special interest Location and context Somerton is situated in the Mid Somerset Hills landscape character area on the low ridge between the Yeo and Cary rivers, close to and overlooking a crossing of the latter a short distance to its east. The town occupies a spur of higher ground between the River Cary and the Mill Stream that lies in a small valley on the south side. Historic development and archaeology The town is first referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 733, when Aethelbald, King of Mercia occupied Somerton, a royal possession of the West Saxon kings. The kings of Wessex re-established their control of the town in the early 9th century. At Domesday the Somerton estate is listed first of the land in the Kings possession. At this time Somerton was clearly the central place of a large royal estate but may not have been urban in character. The extent of the estate was not known, neither was tax paid for it. As an estate centre a royal residence might be expected around which a settlement may have grown up and perhaps formed a short lived burh evidenced by the place name Bury in a court roll of 1349. A market had been granted in 1255 and Somerton was chosen as the county town in the later 13th century, perhaps due to the erroneous tradition that the town had been the Saxon capital of Wessex. The shire courts and gaol were transferred to Somerton from Ilchester in 1278 and 1280 respectively, which has been cited as the main cause for Ilchesters waning economy in the late 13th and 14th century. By 1290 a new borough had been added, increasing the number of burgages. The position as county town was short lived with the gaol out of use by 1371 and the last visit of the circuit judges in 1530. General decline is also shown by the market ceasing in the late 16th century. However, a new grant was made in 1606
and the economy of the town seems to have picked up as the market increased in importance, reflected in the growing number of inns situated around the market square and the number of fine quality buildings put up in this period. Despite the successful market and some cloth industry up to the mid-18th century the economy of the town remained essentially agricultural. Following a further slump in the 18th century some recovery was felt in the 19th with new industries in the town; Somerton brewery on West Street, a collar factory on Broad Street, a gloving and shoe bindings factory, a cardboard box factory and quarrying for building stone. However, the town suffered from the lack of a railway, particularly with the line passing through nearby Langport. When a new railway was eventually built through Somerton in 1906, the station was maintained for less than sixty years. The town is now little more than a village despite large modern housing developments added, particularly around the west end of the town, in the 20th century. See Victoria County History for more information. Archaeological potential An Area of High Archaeological Potential (AHAP) has been designated across the core of the town reflecting the potential of the archaeological resource relating to the prehistoric, Roman, Saxon and medieval development of the settlement. The wider area was densely populated in the prehistoric and particularly the Roman periods. Nine Romano-British farmsteads or villas have been located in the area around Somerton which was a rich agricultural hinterland to the Roman town at Ilchester. The historic buildings of the town are an important archaeological resource in their own right as well. Any proposed development within the AHAP will need to include appropriate measures to assess and, if necessary, protect or record the archaeological interest of the site or building. Landscape setting The town is situated elevated above the point at which the River Cary issues from its passage through the Mid Somerset
Somerton Conservation Area Appraisal
Hills into the open moors to the northwest, the town centre being a mile or so to the southwest of the river The immediate landscape setting of the town is defined by the steep hillsides of the Cary valley falling from its north edge, and the valley of the tributary Mill Stream to the south, which currently contains the towns southward extent. To the west, Somertons setting is less clearly defined, with the town extending across open plateau land toward the Bancombe and Somerton Hills. General character and plan form The form of the town is influenced around the east-west direction of old routes that were dictated by the local topography and the bridging point on the River Cary. The early core of the settlement may have been located in the area to the north of the church overlooking the river valley, known as Bury, the result perhaps of a short-lived Saxon Burh being established here. Alternatively it could have been situated on the elevated spur east of the present town but no firm evidence has been revealed. Later, in the C13th, the borough was established south of Bury and burgage plots laid out around the rectangular market place and along Broad Street south of the east-west route which ran down to the river crossing. The eastward line has disappeared but may be revealed in the historic boundaries that survive north of the churchyard and around the vicarage. West End seems to have evolved from sporadic developments first in C17th and infilled in the C19th. Since then much development and further infilling has occurred to the west and north-west. The present planform incorporates three early foci at Cow Square, perhaps relating to the earliest urban focus; at the C13th market place and at West End where routes from the south and west converge into West Street. The present core of the town is Market Place with churchyard immediately adjoining. This and the streets leading off, Broad Street and West Street, seem to have been laid out in C13th along with burgage plots that are still evident.
The town possesses a particularly distinctive and homogenous character of modest buildings in the soft grey Blue Lias stone with warm orange clay pantiles and roman tiles particularly in the principle streets mentioned above with consistent built-up frontages forming a strong enclosure of space. Beyond this urban core, which would be sharply defi